RUNNING TIME: 131 Minutes
•Audio Commentary with Director Kathryn Bigelow and Writer Mark Boal
•The Hurt Locker: Behind the Scenes
Go to work at one of the most stressful, dangerous jobs on the planet, and keep your feelings (and your books for fifth period) in The Hurt Locker.
Written by Mark Boal
Directed by Kathryn Bigelow
Starring: Jeremy Renner, Anthony Mackie, Brian Geraghty, Guy Pearce, David Morse, Ralph Fiennes, Evangeline Lilly
A suspenseful and action packed film that serves up a terribly mixed message about personal responsibility.
The Hurt Locker, Kathryn Bigelow and Mark Boal’s film about a bomb dismantling unit in Iraq is an odd duck. What separates it (positively or negatively) from most films about the modern American involvement in the Middle East is that the idea of politics never enters the scene. It is purely an action film disguised as a suspenseful war film. It doesn’t have satire, it doesn’t have a sense of loss, it is a film that follows men, (particularly one man – SSgt. William James, well-played by Jeremy Renner) who are doing a job. This job just happens to be one of the most high risk and life threatening occupations possible.
James doesn’t enter the scene until we have already met Sgt. JT Sanborn and Spc. Owen Eldridge, who along with their team leader (a cameo from Guy Pearce) play by the rules. They always send in the robot first to assess the possible explosive device. If they need to, the leader will suit up and go in to dismantle the bomb himself. It is precisely this situation that sets forth the template for every “adventure” thereafter and leads to James joining Sanborn and Eldridge. Every member of a bomb squad has to be a bit crazy, but James sets a new standard. He literally lives for this stuff, to a fault. He discards the use of the robot, and even the protective suit at times. He makes decisions that endanger his team, at least in the eyes of Sanborn, with whom he butts heads.
Unfortunately, while James is the gung-ho Die Hard “doesn’t play by the rules” action character that we all idolize in movies, placing him into “reality” essentially makes him the villain of the film in this reviewer’s humble opinion. It forces a bizarro twist on the archetype, where he is praised by his superiors in the Army (David Morse, the second of several cameos from known actors including Ralph Fiennes and Lost’s Evangeline Lilly) while his team contemplates simply getting rid of him because of his recklessness. He deserves the “f*** you” he receives as last words from one of his team members. The worst offense of all seems to be that he is a completely selfish jerk to his family. A scene late in the film of his restless civilian life could have been a flashback to before he joined in for his first tour of duty in Iraq. Instead, it rather bluntly is not.
Sanborn may hate James, but Eldridge isn’t quite sure what to make of any of him. Eldridge is the one main character who is simply a good person and he is treated like crap as a result. He puts trust in his superiors, questions baseless violence, and tries to be the best damn soldier he can be. His reward is that he is portrayed as the one person in the film who is seeking psychological counseling. This isn’t just the film reflecting James’ view of him, as someone who has to be pushed to the edge in order to make him a better person, but essentially the film is attacking anyone who feels like Eldridge feels. The resolution for his character is fairly unsympathetic and should be a moment to root for the hero “beating” the villain but instead it plays more like a “good riddance to someone who wasn’t cut out for Iraq in the first place”.
The film is great for reflecting James’ cocksure attitude but at fault for glorifying it. It is sending a bad message about adrenaline rushes. The fact that James will never quit on an IED challenge makes him praiseworthy, but when you realize it is all for him and not the safety of those around him you can’t help but feel saddened. As long as the bomb gets dismantled, does the reason matter? Well when James does fail, is he beating himself up about it because a person died or because he failed himself? James does have his moments of selflessness, though they are few and far between. He cares deeply for a local “base rat” called Beckham and is willing to endanger himself to protect him. Unfortunately, the fact he would go to such lengths for this foreign boy while hanging up on a long distance call with his own wife reflects his completely backwards sense of honor.
As much as this reviewer would like to be able to sit back and just go along for the ride with a well made action-drama about bomb dismantlers who face a new exciting challenge each episode, there has to be more going on beneath the surface. To ignore that is to ignore the idea that film is an art form capable of brilliant levels of subtext. The film makes a case that it is worth having someone abandon every other aspect of life for the one thing they are good at if it helps save lives, but does he have to be such a jerk? Whether it is being accurate to the type of person one has to be to exist under this kind of pressure on a day to day basis or not, there is a terribly mixed message about responsibilities for one’s self and those that care about them.
The film is presented in its original Anamorphic Widescreen aspect ratio of 1:78:1 and features 5.1 Dolby Digital, 2.0 DolbySurround and Spanish 5.1 Dolby Digital audio tracks. There is also an audio commentary featuring director Bigelow and writer Boal where they discuss the origins of the project and how they made it independently from a Hollywood studio. It is fairly dry but has some interesting facts for those interested. A standard EPK called “The Hurt Locker: Behind the Scenes” runs 12 minutes and has lots of patting each other on the back for making such a challenging film. Also featured is an Image Gallery, which is actually more than it seems. The gallery of images from production plays on its own and runs 21 minutes, and can be played together with an optional audio track of Bigelow and Boal doing a Q&A for the film after a screening. Much the same information is covered as with the feature commentary, but it was a nice surprise that isn’t mentioned anywhere on the packaging.